The Expo Blog is a space for posts on the history, themes, legacies and experience of Expos. It includes articles from the BIE and external contributors.
Expo 1893 in Chicago, the World’s Columbian Exhibition, surpassed all previous World Expos in size and unapologetically embraced progress and the modern era. The widespread use of electricity on the site of the Expo was a symbol of the positive side of modernity.
For the organisers, this major endeavour was essential, and it led to one of the most significant corporate and technical rivalries of the time so much so that it shaped the future of electricity in the United States.
Among Montreal’s many celebrations this year, the 50th anniversary of Expo 1967 is undoubtedly the one that brings on the strongest feelings of nostalgia among its residents. In the same year as it marks the 375th anniversary of the city’s founding and 150 years of Canadian Confederation, the city of Montreal is organising a range of activities to remember the glorious six months of 1967 when the city welcomed the world under the theme “Man and his World.”
On 4 March, Montrealers will be able to rediscover the excitement and wonder of Expo 1967 when the city holds its annual Nuit Blanche late night cultural event.
Expo 1889 Paris is remembered for introducing the world to the Eiffel Tower. However, it was also the site of another important debut: French visionary engineer Aristide Bergès’ demonstration of hydroelectricity, a concept known as “Houille Blanche” or “White Coal”, that swept through Europe and the world.
In the mid 19th century, the industrial revolution made coal the major source of energy and thus, a precious commodity. So when at the Expo, Bergès’ exhibit informed visitors about an alternate energy source, he called it “Houille Blanche”, to draw attention from visitors and to highlight the energy potential of water from the mountains, which had been ignored in favour of coal.
Augustin Mouchot’s solar device made its debut at Expo 1878 Paris. At a time when France was seeking to rebuild itself following the Franco-Prussian war, the inventor of the first parabolic solar collector was seen as a genius.
A brilliant French mathematician who possessed a futuristic mentality that led him to foresee a time when the world would no longer be able to depend on non-renewable resources, Mouchot first built a solar-powered steam engine using a concave mirror to reflect the sun’s rays onto a glass-covered boiler. To his amazement, it worked perfectly and motivated him to experiment further in Northern Africa.
Expos are more than just events to showcase accomplishments; they are also laboratories where breakthroughs are made. At Expo 1873 in Vienna, a major discovery was made when Belgian inventor Zénobe Gramme’s dynamo was inadvertently transformed into the first ever industrial electric motor.
As with previous Expos, the majority of machines showcased in the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were powered by steam. Electricity was largely seen as an oddity, even if scientists and engineers had greatly improved their understanding of electrical currents. Werner von Siemens showcased one of the first dynamo-electric machines at Expo 1867 in Paris, but the industrial use of electricity as a source of power was constrained by the small and inconsistent amount of energy it could supply.